Away From Home

International migration flows are a topic of hot debate, especially in Europe and the United States, the major receiving countries. But what about the perspective of the emigration countries? Specifically, we wonder: In absolute numbers, which country has more of its native-born citizens living abroad than any other?

A. Syria
B. United Kingdom
C. India
D. Russia
E. Mexico

A. Syria … is not correct.

Syria’s refugee crisis has dominated headlines in Europe in recent years, as many tried to flee there from their country’s civil war.

As of 2015, 5 million Syrians were living abroad, according to Pew Research data. This compares to a pre-war national population of 21 million.

This recent surge (up from 1 million Syrians abroad in 2010 before the war) makes Syria the ninth-largest source of international migrants. (Most Syrians living abroad reside in bordering countries such as Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan.)

Like Syria, Afghanistan has been a recent major source of refugees and asylum-seekers, as the Taliban and government forces battle for control under a reduced NATO presence. Today, 4.8 million people who were born in Afghanistan live elsewhere, forming the 11th largest national migrant population.

Despite the continued warfare at home, millions of Afghans have returned from abroad (particularly under pressure for refugees to vacate Pakistan after nearly four decades). Back in 1990, 6.7 million native residents of Afghanistan were living in another country.

Iraq, which has a slightly larger population than Afghanistan and a much larger population than Syria, had just 1.5 million of its native-born citizens living in other countries in 2015. That marks a decline from 2.6 million abroad just five years earlier.

B. United Kingdom … is not correct.

The United Kingdom – the world’s 10th largest source country – has nearly the same number of its citizens living abroad (4.9 million people) as Syria.

Poland, a source of many workers in the UK’s service sector and building trades industry, is actually not far behind Britain in the size of its global migrant population. 4.5 million Poles live abroad.

For all the British cultural consternation over the presence of Syrian refugees or Polish migrant workers, the UK is essentially an equal contributor to international migration.

C. India … is correct.

India is the original home of more expatriates than any other country in the world. 15.6 million Indian-born people live and work abroad, as of 2015.

These include both high-tech workers and low-paid service, domestic or construction workers. Large populations of native-born Indians abroad can be found in the United States, Saudi Arabia, UAE, United Kingdom, Canada and many more countries.

Next-door Bangladesh is ranked fifth worldwide, with 7.2 million of its native sons and daughters living in other countries.

People born in Pakistan, another former part of British India, are the sixth-largest migrant population in the world at 5.9 million abroad.

The Philippines are also another key source of international migrants – the eighth largest – to many of the same countries as South Asian migrant workers. These include mainly wealthy economies seeking low-skilled service and domestic workers. 5.3 million native-born Filipinos live overseas, many working in Persian Gulf monarchies or the United States.

D. Russia … is not correct.

Russian expats constitute the third-largest émigré community in the world, concentrating in such countries as the United States, Israel and former Soviet states. 10.6 million of its native-born citizens live in other countries, amid an accelerating brain drain of highly educated workers.

Neighboring Ukraine, a former Soviet Republic like Russia, also has to contend with a large emigration trend. 5.8 million Ukrainians live abroad, making it the seventh largest population of expatriates in the world.

However, both Russia and Ukraine have faced this problem for some time. A quarter-century ago, in 1990 and the waning days of the Soviet Union, the Russian Republic and the Ukrainian Republic were respectively the first- and fourth-largest sources of migrants in the world.

Ukraine’s population abroad has grown slightly from 5.6 million in 1990, but Russia’s has fallen from 12.7 million.

China has one million fewer migrants living abroad than Russia. People born in China but living abroad form the world’s fourth-largest community of émigrés – at 9.6 million as of 2015, according to Pew.

Chinese citizens living abroad include students attending universities overseas; wealthy expatriates seeking a more comfortable life in the West and workers in various advanced economies, Southeast Asian nations or even African states.

Back in 1990, just 4.2 million Chinese lives overseas. Today’s figure is more than double that number.

E. Mexico … is not correct.

Following global leader India, Mexico has the next-largest number of its people living abroad (a total of 12.3 million Mexicans).

Nearly all Mexicans abroad live in the United States (almost 12 million) – making Mexico the largest source country for foreign-born U.S. residents.

The United States itself has the 20th largest number of its citizens living abroad. A total of 3 million Americans live abroad, as of 2015, up from 1.7 million a quarter-century earlier in 1990.

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